My Six Keys to Achieving Excellence

I just read Tony Schwartz’s recent blog on the Harvard Business Review describing the six keys to achieving excellence. I enjoyed it and was inspired. Then, I thought how my music training, apart from providing a lifetime of enjoyment playing music, has given me a first-hand experience achieving excellence. Sometimes, I forget that not all people have had that excellence, so they don’t know why things are tough or don’t they don’t get the results they want.

I’ve taken Mr. Schwartz’s six points and applied them to my experience in music to draw some inspiration in other areas of my life where I feel, er, less accomplished:

  1. Pursue what you love. This is a no brainer as nobody in their right mind would pursue music for any reason other than he or she loves it. A couple of years ago when I started questioning the wisdom of leaving a promising career as an orchestral musician for technical writing (what?), I had an epiphany that has helped me rejig my career back into something I can say I love.
    I was using my head to make big decisions (what shall to do with my life?) and my heart to make small ones (what should I have for lunch today?). I should have been doing the exact opposite.
    I realized I’d been directing my life to things that were rational and, um, boring instead of inspiring. On a daily basis, I was being capricious in a way that was essentially undermining my plans. I needed to start doing the exact reverse: plan my life from my heart and my daily affairs from my head. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” — “Practice!”
  2. Do the hardest work first. In music, the fastest way to do something is slowly. Orchestral musicians meticulously dissect a passage of music until they can play it with ease. Getting to the ease part can take a long time and a lot of patience, but things don’t necessarily come easy—even in music.
  3. Practice intensely, I think people imagine that playing music is relaxing. Well, it is but only after conquering the Himalayan peaks of practice. I don’t know whether musicians practice because they love music or they love music because they practice so much. I think I practiced my way into loving music. It became all consuming in the best possible way. Don’t do things by half measure.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. There is nothing so humbling as bearing your soul before a more accomplished musician. I’ve always been suspicious of the self-taught musician. How can anyone grow surrounded only by there own opinions and habits? There’s no better way to acquire new abilities and to go beyond what you thought yourself capable of than by seeking out an expert to help you reach your goals.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks.When I studied at the Banff Centre for the Arts, we would play chamber music in the morning and then go skiing in the afternoon. By the next day we were indeed renewed. Besides, when you’re doing what you love (or loving what you do), you’re integrating new information all the time—even when you’re asleep.
  6. Ritualize practice. As a musician, I really liked playing scales. It was like a morning ritual. I had the most brutally difficult study book I’d found somewhere. It was called, “Vade Mecum” which I think means “Take along companion” and it was actually written for flute. It included every possible scale and arpeggio configuration in every register. Two hours of that and I felt like I could wrestle a bear!

A music endorsement

“I’ve had the distinct pleasure and honour of playing music with Jason Hall for much of the past year. Jason’s musicality and unquestionable ability wonderfully combines sensitivity with humour and vitality with compassion.”

—Jason Jones, Musician

The Future of the Book

With touchscreen technology poised to become a ubiquitous part of our lives, the future of the book is likely to change dramatically as well.

From TED.com – “Software developer Mike Matas demos the first full-length interactive book for the iPad — with clever, swipeable video and graphics and some very cool data visualizations to play with. The book is Our Choice, Al Gore’s sequel to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.”

Learning Adobe Illustrator

In 2010, I determined that I wanted to improve my Adobe Illustrator skills and so I started creating a mandala a month. Below is the final result.

How to Use the NextBus AVL Solution

In our July 21st, 2011 blog post (which coincided with the inauguration of Saint John Transit’s implementation of NextBus), I described the innovation, the need, and the application of Nextbus. Since then, this helpful YouTube video has appeared (courtesy of The City of Saint John, NB) describing how to use Nextbus for finding your next bus when in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

While the Nextbus AVL system is so easy and intuitive to use it hardly needs directions, this video can be helpful if you’re not familiar with computer-based solutions or you would like an overview of how NextBus works from the client end.

Print and Layout acknowledgement

“Hi Jason. Just took a look at the new product (Quadrant) brochure! It looks great!”


Brad Teeter, journalist, Georgia Straight

Wonderfully written piece…the depth of understanding generated a feeling of gratefulness, pleased to be getting the inside story.

Copy Editing English for a Globaliz(s)ed Audience

In one of the courses I teach at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), I received an email from a very keen participant asking how to prepare for the course (Technical Editing and Grammar course – 1008). Inspired by such enthusiasm (this is what makes September great!), I decided to take it further and include  information for anyone interested in improving their core skills as a technical writer.

Get a Quality Style Guide – Consider ordering the Chicago Manual of Style (I have both an online and hard copy version). It’s an excellent investment for anyone interested in high-quality English-language writing.

Learn MS Word – Research the Track Changes feature in MS Word. There are other software programs technical writers need for writing, but MS Word is still the most common. As a technical writer, you’re expected to use Word at an advanced level.

Learn hard copy markup – It may seem archaic, but hard copy markup makes you indispensable when editing and developing large documents).

Learn the Most Common Grammar Errors – In my course, we learn the ten-top grammar errors. Don’t feel you have to know all grammar errors (that’s what a good style guide is for), but your credibility as a writer is increased exponentially if you know the core ones. To find out the ten-top grammar errors, take my course.

Write, write, write! – to get your foot in the door, take every opportunity you can to write and edit even if it means working for free. Ensure you ask low paying (or non paying) clients to let you keep a copy of the before and finished versions, so you can use them to market yourself.

Balkan Music: Re-Thinking Dissonance

This article was published in July on the Vancouver Observer website. In it, I explore the idea as dissonance as valuable in its own right (not all dissonances have to be resolved) through the medium of the rich and exotic world of Balkan music. Below, I’ve included a short excerpt, all the images, and a link to the complete article.

“In her book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, author and cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich contrasts the “epidemic of melancholia” that pervades much of the modern world with the “phenomenon of communal, shared ecstatic ritual” that existed in our own culture even until the 17th century.

“Western tonal music is based on the dichotomy of dissonance and consonance where unstable dissonances seek their resolutions to consonant sonorities”, states Kalin Kirilov, the camp’s expert on Bulgarian harmony. “If you compare music to energy”, he continues, “the dissonances carry a more powerful charge in comparison to the consonances.”

Read the full article on the VO site. It’s been renamed The Balkan Music and Dance Workshops: re-thinking dissonance originally published 29 July, 2011.

Saint John Transit gets Wireless Upgrade

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Back in February 2010, Webtech Wireless expanded its InterFleet® implementation with the city of Saint John, New Brunswick to include an additional 100 public works and police vehicles—a contract valued at over $100,000. Now to complement the city’s Interfleet solution, Saint John Transit also plans to deploy a Webtech Wireless solution—NextBus.

NextBus will provide Saint John Transit with an AVL tracking solution for its 60 buses, allowing riders to check bus arrivals in real-time. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS text messaging, riders get real-time travel information (each bus is fitted with a satellite tracking system) designed to help them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll. Currently, riders can only view a static schedule of intended bus arrivals and departures on the company’s web site.

NextBus will also install five LCD screens at various locations around the city, including McAllister Place Malland the university campus (UNBSJ) and LED screens at bus stops. To help make public transport more attractive to potential riders (and as a nod to Saint John Transit’s already existing environmental initiatives), the service will add to the city’s existing hot spots with free WIFI for riders on all its buses.

About NextBus

A subsidiary of Webtech Wireless, San Francisco-based NextBus implements real-time passenger information systems used by dozens of transit agencies, universities and other transit operators across North America. Because traffic variations, breakdowns, and day-to-day problems faced by any transit provider can interrupt service, NextBus was designed to help keep riders on schedule even if their buses aren’t. NextBus uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.

As Canada’s oldest incorporated city and New Brunswick’s largest municipality, the city of Saint John has been providing municipal services for more than two centuries. According to Statistics Canada, the Saint John municipal area has a population of 122,389, with a population density of 36.4 persons per square kilometre.

old_saint-john

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation.

The Port of Saint John is one of Canada’s most important ports (its relatively mild maritime climate keeps its deep-water harbour ice-free year round when inland ports in the St. Lawrence Seaway must contend with ice). This keeps the city’s businesses and industries bustling throughout the year. In 2010 for the first time ever, the Port of Saint John exceeded 30 million metric tonnes of cargo in a single year.

About Saint John Transit

Saint John Transit was established in 1979 to provide scheduled transit service to the city. It replaced City Transit Limited (1948-1979) and a string of others dating back to the People’s Street Railway Company (1869-1876). Saint John Transit is the largest public transit system in the province, both by mileage and passengers.

Saint John Transit Statistics

Saint John Transit’s ridership is approximately 50 percent higher than the average for Canadian cities with a population of between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • Number of vehicles: 60
  • Ridership: 2.5 million riders per year

Current active fleet bus types:

Greening Saint John

To reduce auto emissions, the City of Saint John, along with the Federal and Provincial governments, is investing in public transportation between uptown Saint John and outlying communities. Branded as ComeX (Community Express), it provides a rapid bus transport service during peak commuting times.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

With the implementation of ComeX, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 1,500 metric tonnes and downtown traffic will decrease by 800 vehicles a day over the next five years.